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Call for Evidence

Heat resilience and sustainable cooling

The Environmental Audit Committee is undertaking a short inquiry into Heat resilience and sustainable cooling. It will look at the relationship between heat and health; examine the adequacy of current Government policies in relation to current and future need for cooling; and consider what measures could be taken to increase adaptation and resilience to rising temperatures. It is seeking written evidence to inform its inquiry and will hold an oral evidence session in order to form an initial view of the issues.


Health impacts

In 2022, the UK issued its first ever Level 4 heat-health alert[1] as temperature records were broken and a temperature of over 40°C was recorded for the first time. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data[2], the five heat-periods[3] between June and August 2022 resulted in excess mortality of 3,271 deaths – 6.2% above the five-year average – of which 2,803 were in the most vulnerable age group of over 65. As temperatures continue to rise[4], heatwaves are likely to become more frequent and severe due to the effects of climate change. Urban areas can exacerbate this heat exposure as cities are susceptible to the ‘urban heat island’ effect.[5]


Air conditioning

The International Energy Agency estimated in 2018 that the growing use of air conditioners (ACs) in homes and offices would be one of the top drivers of electricity demand globally over the next 30 years, with an equivalent of ten new ACs to be sold every second up to 2050[6]. This trend looks likely to be mirrored in the UK.[7] A large degree of dependency on this single technology risks a vicious cycle whereby more ACs lead to higher energy consumption, leading to higher CO2 emissions, and increasing temperatures yet further. Additionally, ACs typically use refrigerant gases that are highly pollutant, having global warming potentials up to thousands of times that of CO2.[8]

There are less energy-intensive alternatives to AC use; for example, passive and low-energy cooling solutions such as solar protection devices, radiative cooling technologies, adequate ventilation, ceiling fans, evaporative cooling, nature-based solutions, urban greenery, or designing buildings to perform better under hot (and cold) conditions.


Government action

The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Government to undertake an assessment of the risks posed to the UK by climate change every five years. The latest iteration was published in 2022.[9] Alongside the risk assessment sits the National Adaptation Programme (NAP)[10], which outlines Government plans to prepare the country for climate change.

The March 2023 report from the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) assessing the Government’s progress on adaptation concluded that NAP2 (covering the period 2018-2023) did not adequately address the risks identified and suffered from a lack of ambition.[11] Within this, the effect of increasing temperatures on human health (and the health and social care sector) is highlighted as a particular weakness.[12] The CCC has urged a ‘step change’ in the third iteration of the NAP, due to be published in the summer of 2023.

This short inquiry will seek to build on the relevant findings of the Committee’s 2018 Heatwaves inquiry.[13]


Terms of reference

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the issues raised in the following terms of reference, by 17:00 on Thursday 17 August 2023.

  • What evidence exists on the relationship between heat and human health (mortality and morbidity), and which communities are worst affected?
  • How can sustainable cooling solutions and adaptation strategies be implemented in such a way as to minimise overheating, reduce energy consumption and prevent overloading of the electricity grid during peak demand?
  • What actions can be taken to protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat?
  • To what extent do the Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment and National Adaptation Programme (as well as other related strategies such as the Net Zero Strategy and Heat and Buildings Strategy) identify and address the risks from extreme heat? (Note: The third NAP, covering the five-year period from 2023-2028, is expected to be published in the summer of 2023)
  • Does the current planning framework do enough to encourage heat resilience measures such as cooling shelters, water bodies, green infrastructure and shading to be integrated into urban planning? Where such measures are incorporated, how accessible and successful are they?
  • What can be done to protect the UK’s existing public and private sector housing stock from the impacts of extreme heat while ensuring that homes are sufficiently warm in the winter months?
  • What role might reversible heat pumps (which can act as both heating and cooling systems) and other emerging technological solutions, such as the development of smart materials, play in meeting future cooling demands?
  • How can cleaner refrigerants with low or zero global warming potentials support the UK’s cooling needs while contributing to the national emission reduction targets?
  • Does the Government’s Future Homes Standard adequately consider overheating in homes? If not, what additional elements should it include?
  • How effectively is the Government working across departments and with local authorities to ensure a coordinated approach is taken to heat resilience?
  • Does the UK need a dedicated Heat Resilience Strategy? What lessons can be learned from other nations when it comes to national strategies for heat resilience?

It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons




[3] Ibid. A ‘heat period’ is defined by the ONS as “day(s) on which a Level 3 Heat Health Alert is issued and/or day(s) when the mean Central England Temperature is greater than 20°C”




[7] p35




[11] p10

[12] Ibid p13


This call for written evidence has now closed.

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